In spite of a wave of protests – officials from the Post Office Crown Network have decided that the public views mean nothing, and in a continuation of their efforts to close all Crown Offices, will move Felixstowe main post office into WH Smith in November.
This follows the moves in Sudbury, Bury St Edmunds and the proposed move in Ipswich all of which have also attracted a barrage of protest.
The public consultation process is basically a sham – as the Post Office long ago decided due to decades of bad management they could not afford to keep post office buildings running – and so with a secret agreement formed with WH Smith have effectively decided to move all crown branches into a WH Smith where possible. In their letter in response to the town councils suggestion that the move would be better located in East of England Coop at Great Eastern Square they state that there was an opportunity for any business to apply to have the crown branch within their building but that the only applicant was WH Smith – this is a lie.
Franchises such as Bent Hill will be unaffected for the time being – but the move to the other end of Hamilton Rd will have an inevitable impact.
Roger Gale, general manager for the Post Office’s Crown branch network, said 93 representations had been received with the main areas of concern around parking, the size and capacity of the proposed new premises to cope with additional customers, and access.
Residents also questioned if there is enough room in a WH Smith store already tight on space and carrying limited stock and feared the store would have even less books, stationery, magazines and other goods
Mr Gale said it was accepted some people would have further to travel, but there were car parks nearby and disabled parking 50m from the store.
The shop’s doors would be changed to automatic ones and there would be sufficient space for Post Office customers, including wheelchair users, to move around the store and reach the Post Office area without hindrance with the entrance and shopping aisles kept free of obstructions.
However, there will only be three counters in the new facility – one traditional counter and two open plan ones –and present post office staff will lose their jobs. There will also be an inevitable reduction in the amount and variety of goods that WH Smith will be able to hold.
The move will take place November 23rd -24th and there is nothing any of us can now do about it – apart from maybe boycott the new facility and take all our business to Bent Hill.
The full letter from Roger Gale is below:
“ I’m writing to confirm that following a period of local public consultation and review, the decision has been made to proceed with the proposal to move the above Post Office into the WH Smith store at 64 Hamilton Road, Felixstowe, The branch will be operated by WH Smith High Street Ltd under a franchise agreement.
This change is being made as part of the continuing modernisation of our network, to achieve commercial sustainability and will help us to provide services that will meet customer needs and safeguard future service provision in Felixstowe, now and for the long-term
Public consultation feedback:
During the public consultation period we received 93 individual representations from customers and local representatives. We also held a customer forum to talk about our plans and answer questions.
We would like to thank everyone who took the time to let us have their comments and provide information. All the feedback we received helped us to better understand the views of customers and their representatives and this was taken into account along with all other relevant factors, when making our decision.
The main areas of feedback were around car parking availability; the size and capacity of the proposed new premises to cope with additional customers and accessibility into and within the proposed new premises. Concern was also raised about the impact the move might have on other retailers in the area and some comments were received about the wider Post Office network in Felixstowe. We also received a number of positive comments about the move. Finally we were also asked whether we had considered other retailers as potential franchise partners.
With regards to the latter point, in line with our normal process we advertised a potential franchise opportunity at Felixstowe earlier this year and any interested parties were encouraged to apply. WHSmith High Street Ltd was successful in their application and following their selection, we developed our proposal to move the service to a new location.
Getting to the new location:
With any relocation it is inevitable that whilst some customers will have an easier journey to the new location, regrettably others will have further to travel. We carefully considered factors such as the local terrain, parking and transport links when developing our proposal. We also took account of whether there were any particular local road traffic issues that may negatively impact accessibility.
When considering the consultation feedback, we reviewed ease of getting to the proposed new location. There is a pedestrian crossing with a dropped kerb outside of the existing branch and the route to WHSmith is level. WHSmith is located in the shared space shopping area, which has four designated disabled bays approximately 50 metres away, and there is also a car park approximately 150 metres away on Crescent Road, with nine designated disabled bays. For those using public transport, the bus stop is approximately 180 metres away from WHSmith on Crescent Road. In conclusion, we remain satisfied that customers in Felixstowe will continue to have good access to Post Office services.
What the new branch will look like:
We know that the Post Office plays an important part in the lives of customers, including our elderly and disabled customers. We have a long and successful relationship with WHSmith and we’ll be working together to provide a new, modern Post Office with sufficient room for Post Office and shop customers.
The new branch will have its own designated area at the rear of the store, and customer access both into and within the premises will meet Post Office Ltd’s own accessibility standards and all applicable legislation.
Access will be level and the existing manual entrance doors will be replaced with new automatic ones. Externally the store front will include Post Office signage, and an opening hours board. In addition to the main Post Office counter, there will be mail posting facilities available within the new branch. There is also a street post box approximately 230 metres away on the corner of Hamilton Road and Victoria Street.
There will be directional signage from the entrance door through to the new Post Office area. To make sure there is sufficient space for Post Office customers, including wheelchair users, to move around the store and reach the Post Office area without hindrance, the entrance area and shopping aisles will be kept free of obstructions.
The Post Office counter will be built to Post Office specifications and will include lighting to industry standards, low level counters, PIN pads and hearing loops. There will be space for people to wait for service and customer seating will also be provided.
The number of serving positions is based on current and future predicted business levels and the new branch will have one traditional, floor to ceiling screened serving position and two open plan positions. Open plan serving positions are successfully used across our Post Office network, as an alternative to the more traditional positions. There is still a partitioned screen but this is lower, helping to provide a more personal service and discreet conversations when needed Following the move, the Post Office will also be open for longer including Saturday afternoons and Sundays, providing customers with more flexibility around their visits.
We are satisfied that customer needs will be adequately met. Alongside this, we’ll continue to monitor customer usage at the branch following the move and will work with WHSmith to make sure service standards are maintained.
Access to Post Office services and products:
The same wide range of Post Office services will continue to be available. For reasons outside Post Office Limited’s control, we cannot yet confirm whether or not a cash machine will be available at the new branch. The provision of a cash machine is subject to survey by our cash machine provider, operational considerations and relevant planning permission. Personal banking and Post Office Card Account holders can continue to withdraw cash free of charge at the counter. Alternatively a 24-hour external Post Office cash machine is available at Bent Hill Post Office,
There are designated disabled parking spaces on the opposite side of the road to Bent Hill Post Office and there is a pedestrian crossing outside of the branch.
Staff, who will work exclusively in the Post Office, will be trained to provide information on financial products, including savings and insurances. Product information will also be available for customers to take away with them, and our website and specialist customer helplines also provide information on what’s available and how to make a purchase.
Customer service training and existing Crown staff:
WHSmith already successfully operates over 100 Post Office branches and have satisfied us that they are equally as committed to delivering excellent customer service as we are. Any person employed to work in Felixstowe Post Office will be trained to the highest Post Office standards. Just as with branches we run ourselves, the branch will receive on-going training on products and services, as well as general operational and service related matters. Post Office Area Managers will work with the WHSmith team to provide support, in the same way they already do in existing Post Office branches operated by us or other retail partners.
In respect of our staff working at the existing branch, we have a strong track record of supporting our people through change. We will do all that we can to find a solution that works for each individual within the options available.
After careful consideration of the feedback received, we are confident that the new branch will be suitably located and that it will continue to meet customer needs and deliver an excellent service, whilst helping to provide future sustainability for the branch and maintaining a Post Office presence in Felixstowe. The current branch will close at 17:30 on Wednesday 23 November 2106, with the new branch opening at 09:00 on Thursday 24 November 2016. “
The Post Office faces an uncertain future. In 2012, following the Postal Services Act, it was separated from Royal Mail – the only major state postal operator to divorce its retail arm from its mails operation. A 10 year inter-business contract was brought in after CWU lobbying to ensure that Royal Mail continued to use the post office network, securing key business for the next decade.
Major changes brought further uncertainty. The management has been trying to bring in controversial operating models which could undermine the revenue of postmasters; major government contracts remain uncertain; and there are plans to mutualise the whole operation.
In 2011 the Post Office started trialling two new operating models – ‘Locals’ and ‘Mains’ – as part of its Network Transformation (NT) programme. The Locals model in particular has been heavily criticised for reducing services and eroding reasonable revenues for postmasters, potentially threatening thousands of closures and fundamentally changing post offices forever.
Postal Watchdog Consumer Focus found in their report, Local but limited?, that on top of having a narrower range of products – with DVLA, passport, on-demand foreign currency and Post Office financial services being excluded from the Locals offer entirely – a number of branches were refusing to take parcels and limiting cash withdrawals for pensions and benefits.
Postal workers were involved in a series of strikes in protest against the franchising of crown post offices in 2013. In 2013, the Post Office proposed handing 70 crown offices over to franchises and 50 have already been put into private hands, including dozens now run by WH Smith. The high street retailer operates 109 Post Office outlets in its stores, about half of which are former crown outlets.
Hundreds of long-term staff were made redundant when WH Smith took on an initial batch of post offices in 2006.
In 2007, the government gave a £1.7 billion subsidy to Royal Mail Group so that it could turn a profit by 2011. This was to be used to invest across the whole network of Royal Mail, Post Office Ltd and Parcelforce. 85 Crown post offices were closed, 70 of which were sold to WH Smith. This followed a trial of six Post Office outlets in WH Smith stores. WH Smith was expected to make up to £2.5 million extra in annual profit. 2,500 sub-post offices closed between 2008 and 2009.
On 8 February 2013, Post Office Ltd announced it was planning to move around seventy of its Crown post offices into shops. This would reduce the Crown network, which it stated was losing £40 million a year, to around 300.